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Carolina Bar-B-Que: a legend and simply one of South Carolina’s best and most well-respected BBQ restaurants. That is why it has been in business for over half a century.
Southern Living magazine named Carolina Bar-B-Que one of “The South’s Top 50 Barbecue Joints.” The SC Barbeque Association awarded them its highest recognition, labeling it “100-Mile BBQ,” barbecue so good it’s worth driving 100 miles for.
Heck, even The Washington Post listed Carolina Bar-B-Que among its group of “South Carolina’s Best Barbecue” restaurants. If The Washington Post is writing about you, there must be a pretty good reason.
And these aren’t the only accolades Carolina Bar-B-Que has earned. And the folks who run the place are appreciative.
“It’s a privilege to be there,” owner Jess “Bubba” Walker said. “We are glad that people think that our food is that good.”
When the food is that good, the recognition is sure to follow.
Speaking of food, Aiken is no stranger to the traditional all-you-can-eat buffets. Of those in the area, Carolina Bar-B-Que is likely the most modest. It is a relatively small place. That said, there is nothing overly modest about the selection of items on the buffet. They have all the standards one would expect around these parts.
The pulled pork is a beautiful mound smoky hog that offers a certain smokiness and a lot of taste. There, pork shoulders are smoked on the pit the way it has historically been done in SC. Not surprising from a longstanding restaurant that first opened in the 196os.
The BBQ is not sauced ahead of time. That leads to “mushy” BBQ. You will find two sauces on the tables. There is a sweet “rust gravy” typical of the Dukes family from which Carolina Bar-B-Que was born. There is also a hot-sweet version of the sauce.
Of course, the Dukes family has a special hash recipe, and the one at Carolina Bar-B-Que is special. For those from elsewhere, hash is a thick stew some have described as a “meat gravy.” Like the mustard sauce, hash originated in SC. People here simply expect it to be available in BBQ joints around SC.
Among the side dishes are baked beans, slaw, fried squash, fried chicken skin, corn nuggets, hush puppies, macaroni and cheese, and candied yams.
For dessert, there are a few items. Carolina Bar-B-Que offers soft-serve ice cream, banana pudding, and peach cobbler among the many options.
In the Top 50 Southern Living article, Robert Moss wrote: “Carolina Bar-B-Que is a bit of a sleeper, my favorite of the many outposts connected with South Carolina’s famous Dukes barbecue family. The tender shreds of pork have plenty of smoky outer bits mixed in, and it’s served with bottles of the orangish-red ‘rust gravy’ sauce—a blend of mustard and ketchup—that’s the signature of the Dukes clan.”
Jim Shahin in The Washington Post described Carolina Bar-B-Que as the “barbecue version of Garrison Keilor’s Chatterbox Cafe, abuzz with townsfolk. Excellent buffet.”
The SC BBQ Association has deemed Carolina BBQ to be 100-Mile BBQ. Lake High wrote “Their barbeque is pit cooked and smoked the way it used to be everywhere in the South but is now found in only a few places. And their doing it for over 35 years has lead to barbeque perfection. The only negative with Carolina is that they only do shoulders and don’t do ribs. What I wouldn’t give for some ribs done in the same expert manner as the barbeque!” Read their review here.
As for the regular folks who take time to write reviews, they have a lot of good things to say, too. Caroline N. from Charleston wrote the following on Yelp:
“Best bbq ever!! I grew up on Carolina Bar-B-Que and even with all the good bbq restaurants in Charleston, nothing holds a candle to this place. This is the hole in the wall that tells you this is the good stuff. And yes, we drive past Duke’s to get here.
“Over the years, they’ve added additional sides and even dessert (don’t leave without trying banana pudding). While literally everything is good, it’s the BBQ, hash, and hushpuppies that make me hate that there’s no good way to get to New Ellenton from Charleston.
“They do take-out on the side. They have odd hours because they can. You’ll be eating next to strangers. You’ll leave happy and planning your next trip (in stretchy pants of course).”
On her Google review, Local Guide Charlene Smith wrote about Carolina Bar-B-Que:
“Pork rinds are fabulous. They even had chicken skins. Get a bag of pork rinds to go! Hash is yummy and BBQ sauces are the best. Three varieties of homemade pickles. BBQ chicken was tasty, without sauce too. The pulled pork was great. Carolina BBQ sauce makes them better!!! Everything fried is served in small batches, so it is fresh.
“If you love BBQ, this buffet is worth the stop. And even if you don’t…there are enough yummy sides to enjoy with your BBQ-loving family members and friends. Go…so you can say you did!!!”
In the end, Carolina Bar-B-Que has been in business for over 50 years for a reason. Don’t miss out.
In this Road Trip Series, we featured all the SC BBQ restaurants within 10 miles of an interstate exit. While it falls out of this range, if you find yourself traveling down Interstate 20, do yourself the favor of taking a detour to visit Carolina Bar-B-Que.